Northern Plains Electric
Friday, December 31, 2010
Baker Electric Cooperative of Cando and Tri-County Electric Cooperative of Carrington operated as separate entities for the last time on this date in 1996. The two energy co-ops merged on January 1st, 1997, to form Northern Plains Electric Cooperative, the largest geographic electric co-op in North Dakota.
Electric cooperatives have a long and interesting history in the state. Without the initial motivations on the part of the state’s pioneers, it may have taken electricity much longer to reach rural and isolated North Dakota during the first half of the 20th Century.
Scientists had known about electricity for decades, but were unable to harness its energy in any practical application until Thomas Edison’s invention of the light bulb in 1879. During the 1880s, small power stations sprang up in wealthier areas of many U.S. cities, run by independent businessmen for profit. Over time, the stations became larger, private electric companies were formed, and advances in electric power transmission allowed for the electrification of larger areas. Key to these advances were patents by Nikola Tesla and the invention of the disc insulator by Harold Buck and Edward Hewlett. However, the private electric companies restricted their business to urban areas, where power lines had to be built only short distances and consumers were densely located, thereby maximizing profits. The companies claimed that providing power to rural areas would simply cost too much. Therefore, although most Americans had access to electricity during the 1930s, it reached only ten percent of those living in rural areas. In response, groups of North Dakota residents banded together to form electrical cooperatives. Pooling resources, the co-ops built the infrastructure necessary to bring power to the state. They were also aided by Franklin Roosevelt’s Rural Electric Administration, which provided government loans to help electrify rural areas.
Baker Electric Cooperative of Cando was the first electric cooperative in the state, providing electricity since 1938. In July of 1996, a merger between Baker and Tri-County was approved, creating the Northern Plains Co-op. Northern Plains is one of sixteen co-ops currently operating in North Dakota, serving nearly 11,000 members over 3,500 square miles.
Today, North Dakota exports nearly sixty percent of its electrical power, and has been identified as having the greatest potential of any of the lower forty-eight states regarding wind energy by the Department of Energy.
Dakota Datebook by Jayme L. Job